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Spring Football Season is a Great Idea No One Wants

I’m not sure exactly how serious Tony Gerdeman is with his idea for a second season of junior varsity spring football. On the one hand, I would like to give him credit for thinking through the idea in a fairly complete way. On the other hand, taking the article seriously means taking this seriously:

If we can get the Title IX issue settled – and as long as we tell the lady lawmakers that we think they’re pretty, it shouldn’t be an issue – you can’t tell me you wouldn’t love to have college football going on right now.

Setting aside this terrible comment and the fact that there is no push for Title IX reform and the difficulty of getting it through the current Congress even if there was, let’s evaluate this idea on its merits.

I’ve pitched a spring football season before, in a previous iteration of this blog. Unlike Gerdeman’s idea, mine would have been just half of the existing football schedule. The idea would be to play football year round, with teams taking a minimum of two weeks off between games. The point of a year-round football schedule would be to reduce the impact of head trauma and concussions by giving players more time off during the season.

Gerdeman builds in some concussion protection, with a 15-game limit for players, equal to the maximum number of games a team will play in 2014 and beyond when the College Football Playoff starts. He also had addressed some of the other impacts, like the need for a larger roster and different recruiting calendar as well as admitting there are some issues he has not considered.

But the biggest problem is that no one in college football wants this.

College presidents are going to be wary of the academic impact and likely public relations backlash from even more football. Athletic directors see the certainty of a big increase in expenses and a highly uncertain return on that investment. It would be more work and more recruiting for coaches who balked at being able to call or text recruits whenever they wanted. And college athletes need some sort of break or offseason, which would be gone if the season stretched into mid-June like Gerdeman proposes.

The NCAA national office and senior leadership would not be keen on seeing college football suck even more wind out of college basketball and baseball, which fund the rest of the operations of the NCAA. Basketball schools will not be pleased with having to compete for the spotlight year round. If the Big Ten and other SEC schools balked at allowing Alabama to have unlimited recruiting staff, what will they say to handing Nick Saban 55 more scholarships and the ability to poach any of their players?

Even the insatiable thirst of fans for more football is an assumption that must be questioned. Just because teams can sell out a single spring scrimmage does not mean they will be able to draw large enough crowds to a full slate of junior varsity games. Part of the appeal for football fans is the short, intense season, rather than the long slog and daily grind of baseball, basketball, hockey, or soccer. A spring season with cheaper tickets could even draw some people away from the main attraction, as they get their live game fix at bargain basement prices during the spring and watch on TV during the fall.

If the NFL ever did something similar, with say a spring U23 league, it would suck almost all the wind out the spring college football sails. The diehard college football fans who are casual (at best) NFL fans would still be interested. But if the NFL became a year-round venture like college football would be, a big portion of the fans of both will have to choose. And in that case the smart money is always on the NFL to get the bulk of that group.

In the short term, it might work. A breakaway group of BCS schools could fund the start-up costs of a rival athletics association through new offerings like meaningful(ish) spring football. But the odds of success as a long-term sustainable product are slim. It would be a gimmick, much like spring games themselves are rapidly becoming. You would start with a full 15 game slate, cut it to six or eight, then simply eliminate the spring season. And everyone would look back on it as a curious accident of history.

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